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'Lake Baikal is truly astonishing. One of the most ancient geographical features on Earth, it is estimated to be 30 million years old'
Marc Di Duca

World's deepest lake shrouded in smoke, swimmers covered in ash

By The Siberian Times reporter
24 August 2015

'Scary' scenes as fumes from burning forests cover Lake Baikal, with people - and bears - fleeing 'Apocalypse'.

'Today we were on Lake Baikal in Gremyachinsk. The sky is black from smoke, ashes in the air. Scary.' Picture: Vladimir Borovikov

Summer wildfires ignited in areas close to the vast Siberian lake at the height of the vacation season, causing breathing problems in some areas. Campers reported their tents and cars caked in ashes from the huge fires. 

Some 45 people were evacuated from the Baikal shore on Monday, and there are fears of dangers to people from bears fleeing the smoke towards the lake shore. 

One man called Alexander reported: 'When we swam in Baikal on Saturday, we were all covered in ashes. Ash was floating in the water and on the water. In the morning we woke up, all the cars and tents were covered with ash too.'

An anonymous local girl told Instagram:  'Today we were on Lake Baikal in Gremyachinsk. The sky is black from smoke, ash in the air. Scary. Firefighters run around - they probably need equipment and aircrafts, but they are not visible, and there  are a lot of heat sources along the road. I have never witnessed such a scene... very scary.'

A tourist from Sarminsk Gorge wrote:  'Like in movies about the Apocalypse .... Some stones but no vegetation, all up in smoke. Burning forests of the Baikal region. We walked 7 km in one direction in thick smoke.'

Firebreak strips - to prevent the spread of flames - were rendered useless in strong winds.

A cyclist said: 'On Syatoy Nos peninsula, forests are burning. Now we are 10 kilometres away from the fire. We can see both fire and smoke. Tomorrow the peninsula will be closed to visitors because of the disaster. Water is full of ash, after bathing it covers the body. The situation is terrible! They say that the bears went down (towards the lake shore)  because of the fire.'

Wildfires on Baikal


Wildfires on Baikal


Wildfires on Baikal


Wildfires on Baikal


Wildfires on Baikal

'Like in movies about the Apocalypse .... Some stones but no vegetation, all up in smoke.' Pictures: Gal San, Egor Rudenko, Vladimir Borovikov, Yulia Kylasova-Garmaeva, MOE in Irkutsk region

Mikhail Ovdin, director of Zapovednoye Podlemorye, responsible for Barguzinsky Reserve and Trans-Baikal National Park, said: 'There were strong winds, and the fire bypassed firebreaks strips from the side of the ridge. 

'It is hard to estimate the fire and to detect where is its heart because of the smoke. 84 people are working on Svyatoy Nos. We sent an additional request for 30 people to the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources. The situation is stable but heavy.'

Badly hit is Barguzinsky district the Republic of Buryatia, where no rain has fallen for the entire summer. 

The deputy head of the district, Yelena Leontyeva, said: 'Besides fires, we have an emergency drought. It is very difficult. Smoke hangs throughout the Republic [Buryatia]. Visibility is small, about 120 metres. Now the wind is up, maybe there is 300 metres visibility.'

Pollution readings from smoke fumes have been taken, and analysis is underway. 

'This morning the area [of fires] was 21,900 thousand hectares, including Trans-Baikal National Park. Almost 200 people are fighting the fire, local residents are involved too and about 20 tractors and bulldozers.'

Ulan-Ude, capital of Buryatia, was also under a pall of smoke. 

In Irkutsk region, which also borders the lake, acting head of the regional forestry agency, Sergei Tarasyuk, said: 'The area of fires has increased significantly over  Saturday and Sunday, as there was heat of up to 38C and windy weather. This lead to the crown fires, which covered more than 17,000 hectares.'

Wildfires on Baikal


Wildfires on Baikal


Wildfires on Baikal


Wildfires on Baikal

One huge fire threatened  camp sites 'Peschanye Dyuny' and 'Peschanaya'. All tourists were evacuated from these over the weekend. Pictures: Yelena Karnyushina, Sasha Chernykh, Irk Sib

Crown fires are when the blaze spreads through the tops of trees. One huge fire threatened  camp sites 'Peschanye Dyuny' and 'Peschanaya'. All tourists were evacuated from these over the weekend including 120 from Peschanka. Some 889 people and 120 pieces of equipment, including amphibious aircraft, were involved in the firefighting battle. 

In Transbaikal region, the area and number of wildfires doubled over the weekend, said local officials on Monday. 'As of early morning on Monday, we register ten wildfires covering 412 hectares,' said a spokesman.

On 23 July, local governor Konstantin Ilkovsky announced an emergency situation regime in the region because of dry weather causing wildfires. The area of forest fires in Siberian Federal District has grown by 3.3 times over the last 24 hours to 108,300 hectares, the district's forestry department said on Monday.

'A total of 146 forest fires are blazing on the area of 108,300 hectares on the territory of the Siberian Federal District,' said the forestry department.

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